Pecos Bill and the Haunted State | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Pecos Bill and the Haunted State

I participated in my first political debate last night. I use the word "debate" loosely because it wasn't really a debate; it was, in fact, a polite exchange of sound bites, many of them false and a good number of them based on myths about immigration.

The debate was in Rankin County for another in a series of the Stennis Institute of Government's Third Congressional District forums for the candidates vying to win Rep. Chip Pickering's seat in Congress. Six candidates turned out—five Republicans and one Democrat—and I asked questions alongside three men: WAPT's Scott Simmons, Josh Cogswell of the Rankin-Ledger and Marty Wiseman of the Stennis Institute. Clarion-Ledger Perspectives Editor Sid Salter—he and I were both Stennis Scholars at Mississippi State—organized and moderated the panel.

We asked good questions—for the most part open-ended and varied. I, personally, tried to walk my talk and avoid questions about "wedge" issues like abortion, gay marriage and the biggie of the day, immigration. Of course, the candidates themselves brought those topics up often, believing that they were throwing steak tartare to a bloodthirsty crowd.

One candidate, Rev. James Broadwater, even turned a question from Wiseman about pre-kindergarten programs into a diatribe about the homosexual values those little kiddies might learn in kindergarten. With his Asian wife and homeschooled-son listening, Broadwater then said my favorite quote of the night: "The best possible place for them to be is at home with their mama."

If it were up to most of these guys—who, remember, are asking to represent the district in Washington—we could just stipulate certain things as facts: "illegal" immigrants don't pay taxes; "illegals" are taking American jobs; Americans would do those jobs if all those "illegals" would go back south of the border.

The problem, of course, is that we cannot stipulate these memes as facts—because they're not facts. As Adam Lynch shows in this week's cover story, those "facts" are manufactured lies designed to provoke people into voting for the people who rave against the "illegals" who are "taking our jobs." It's a disgusting vote-getter, and it sows division. To hell with actual facts.

I kept itching to ask the candidates if they cared about real numbers, and studies, and realities about immigrants, including the "illegal" ones, who actually pay taxes and, on a whole, are probably helping our economy, not to mention diversifying away white supremacists' hold on U.S. power (there's a hint if you're looking for a motivation for the anti-"illegal" hysteria beyond merely getting votes).

Of course, I wasn't there to "push" the facts on the poor, unsuspecting candidates used to the political horse-race game of throwing red meat and hoping it sticks long enough to get them elected. Had I asked them questions about the real facts, and whether they cared what they are, I would have been accused of being a troublemaker or worse. Had I asked them the vital question of whether they would still be so anti-"illegal" if they saw proof that "these people" were actually helping the U.S. economy, I surely would have been accused of "playing the race card."

Why? Think about it. If you remove the economic component from immigration rhetoric, what is left? Fear of "the other." Disdain for "these people," as Broadwater called the immigrants he wants to deport immediately. The need for someone to pick on. The desire to marginalize hard-working people into a stereotype of freeloader criminals.

Or, just plain old bigotry.

I, like many of you, grew up in a Mississippi intoxicated with myths that served the same purpose: to build fear of the "otherԗregardless of actual facts. Politicians warned they would take white people's jobs and wives and girlfriends. Only communists supported integration. Blacks were dangerous.

This wasn't just in Mississippi, of course: There was a whole "scientific racism" movement to concoct "science" that would show that black people were more violent and more lazy—in order to help maintain white supremacy (and control of resources) as well as to keep racists in power. The book, "Race and Reason: A Yankee View," by Carleton Putnam, was published by Public Affairs Press in Washington, D.C. Putnam, a graduate of Columbia and Princeton universities and later a chairman of Delta Airlines, painstakingly laid out all the myths about black people (and workers) in order to defend segregation.

The book was waved around—much as Lt. Phil Bryant's incomplete and factually challenged immigration report is now—to support all sorts of efforts to keep blacks from voting, attending "white" public schools and shopping in the same businesses. It was used to defend violence against those who challenged that status quo—and held up as a bible by men like Bill Simmons here in Jackson, then the head of the Citizens Council of America and the editor of its racist newspaper, The Citizens Informer (and later the proprietor of The Fairview Inn in Belhaven).

Of course, it was wrong—factually and morally. That didn't stop those ideas from being passed on as fact over and over again (and being pushed years later by racist think tanks like The Manhattan Institute and the authors of "The Bell Curve").

We still have some of those ideas with us—just witness all the rhetoric about crime by young black "thugs" that we hear on local talk radio and the fear of many white people of sending their children to majority-black schools, regardless of the reality of violence and drug use by white suburban kids.

As the nation struggles to determine an intelligent immigration policy—which we desperately need—it is time for a moratorium on "illegal" tall tales. Just as many of us had to find the courage to tell the adults in our families that we will not stand for racist jokes and hate talk, we must also muster the same cojones to stand up to the people—whether friends or politicians or talk-show celebs—who are passing on immigration lies as if they are the gospel. We have a wonderful chance to draw from lessons of our past and put Mississippi forth as a leader on ending ethnic mythologies that turn into hatred and legacies that will take so many years to shake.

In our state, we had the farthest to come on these issues. We know better than to go down the same road again.

As the Brethren church teaches: "God made people; people made borders."

We can also tear them down.

Previous Comments

ID
76135
Comment

I just noticed that the JFP Web guy didn't put up my column this week. So here it is. I'm thrilled to say that it will make the heads of illegal-bashers explode on contact. And that is a worthy goal.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-02-21T11:55:55-06:00
ID
76136
Comment

Wow, wow and wow.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-02-21T12:09:06-06:00
ID
76137
Comment

It dosen't matter if illegals pay taxes, do job that American won't do, or help the U.S. economy. If they are here illegally then they shouldn't be here. If someone wants to immigrate to the U.S., great, you are welcome here as long as you do it legally.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2008-02-21T13:38:25-06:00
ID
76138
Comment

For me one of the highlights of the democratic primary debate last night in Texas was when Obama spoke of the need to reform the country's LEGAL immigration policies. Many individuals who "illegally" come to this country are hardworking contributors to our society who do not have the economic resources or information to legally immigrate to our country. If you consider that most of the latinos granted legal access have a lot more in common with upper class white america, than their "illegal" countrymen, you can see why rhetoric surrounding immigration is fundamentally racist. People who excoriate those immigrating illegally are blind to the country's flawed immigration system and the economic realities of many immigrants.

Author
Lindsey
Date
2008-02-22T16:39:07-06:00
ID
76139
Comment

Bubba, this country has a long history of laws that needed to be changed, e.g. slavery, Jim Crow, and prohibition. Not every law is just and, accordingly, not every law should be enforced as written. Instead, unjust laws should be scrapped or changed to make them just. We have for decades allowed, hell, encouraged, illegal immigrants to come to America to fill jobs that our citizens are unwilling or lack incentive to take. These immigrants have become hard-working members of our comminities. They have built our homes, helped raise our children, rebuilt our coasts after hurricanes, and raised families. It would be unjust to uproot them, tear apart their families, and ship them to what for many of them would be a foreign, albeit home, country. In addition to the injustice, I invite you to consider the humanity and Christianity of what you propose.

Author
Huckleberry
Date
2008-02-22T17:18:56-06:00
ID
76140
Comment

Huckleberry, you can't compare immigration laws with slavery,Jim Crow laws, or prohibition. That's comparing apples and oranges. How are immigration laws unjust?

Author
BubbaT
Date
2008-02-23T01:38:54-06:00
ID
76141
Comment

Our immigration laws are not unjust as applied to immigrants wanting to come to this country. The unjustice would be in enforcing them against the otherwise lawful illegal immigrants who are already here, many of them for decades, who, as as I wrote above, we "invited" here with years of looking the other way.

Author
Huckleberry
Date
2008-02-23T07:14:07-06:00
ID
76142
Comment

im with bubba...i say the illegal immigrants...the ones that traded beads for manhattan...you know the ones that gave the orginal hardworkers small pox...are right...i mean who needs hardworkers and welfare queens walking our streets...unless we pay them to hire these illegals to work jobs where they benefit the truly illegal and immoral...they should come over here right and follow the policies and procedures that are in place for citizenship...everyone else did...espically that little boy that violated the law that was returned to god awful cuba...well actually he had to be seized and wasnt hell raised about that...i mean he was an illegal wasnt he...anywho i get confused and run things together...im with bubba t welcome home but get you a key made first...

Author
skipp
Date
2008-02-26T13:47:14-06:00

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